My first day in San Sebastián started earlier than one might think. Our group arrived to the Bilbao airport a bit after midnight and we proceeded to make the hour-long drive to our hotel, arriving at around 1:30. After the grueling 24 hours spent traveling to our new homes, we had just seven hours before we were scheduled to arrive at our first day orientation. Factoring in time spent showering, unpacking, and getting breakfast in the morning, this amounted to between four to five hours of sleep for most.
Now why am I telling you all this? Believe it or not it is not just my attempt to complain to the airline companies for continually delaying our flight without end. It is to emphasize the energy that the small city of San Sebastián carries with it. This first day was jam packed with so many new and unique experiences that my body couldn’t even begin to get fatigued from the sub-optimal (to say the least) sleep and jet lag caused by the extended travel time because my mind was too busy perceiving and interpreting all the stimuli.
The day started off with a bike ride to the Lacunza language school. We were confident in our ability to make a 30 minute commute through a city that none of us have ever been to before. That confidence turned out to be our downfall. Soon enough we were pulled over on the side of the bike path with multiple people pulling up directions trying hard to figure out a way over a railroad track that was blocking our paths. Through some great collaboration and our sheer will, we eventually made it to the school slightly (it was more than slightly) late. Our luck turned around later in the day, though, as we got more familiar with our surroundings and we’re able to competently navigate around the downtown area of the city and our hotel. This first day really reminded me of what it felt like to move onto campus at UML for the first time last year. I had been to Lowell before, but never near campus, so learning the locations of all the buildings and the various routes between north and south campus was a large task. Quickly though, I started recognizing some landmarks and forming a mental map of the city. A year later and I know every street on campus like the back of my hand. This is how I want my short time at San Sebastián to go. I want to learn everything there is to know about this city and visit every nook and cranny. Ideally, leaving at the end of these three weeks will feel like leaving home. I recognize that it will take a lot of effort to constantly remain cognizant of my surroundings – mental effort that I have already started to use today.
The Lacunza language classes are far different from any language class I have taken before. They are largely conversational. You are constantly talking with a partner or the class as a whole so that you can practice what it will really feel like when you are out in the streets of the city. During the spring semester of this year I was on a co-op, so before today I have not stepped foot in a classroom since early December. Normally I might be dreading going back to school, but understanding these facts about Lacunza beforehand made me look forward to trying out the altered style of learning. Sure enough, I thought the class was interesting and engaging and the time just flew by. From my perspective now, preparing for bed, it felt like such a small part of my day. And I suppose that is exactly what I would want out of these classes – a source of valuable information and daily practice, but one that does not impede me from experiencing the city on my own. In addition to the classes we had in the morning, the school also led us on a walking tour throughout the city. I learned so many tidbits about different landmarks and the culture of the city which jump started my desire to learn more and explore.
What drew me most to San Sebastián were the breathtaking views and today’s experience alone has already more than delivered on my anticipation. The significance of where I am in the world right now still hasn’t really hit me. In all honesty I’m sure it won’t until a couple weeks after the trip is already over. So in order to combat this geographical shock, a perfect trip for me would entail having as many diverse experiences as I can and making the most of all of them so that I have a lot of content to remember from this month. Based on today’s activities and the plans for the next few weeks, I’m sure I am more than capable of accomplishing that.